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What’s the Right Amount of Repeat Consulting Business?

The roofer spiffying up my Connecticut abode should be done in a day or two, then I’ll see him again, uhm, never? Roofing seems like a tough business. Always hustling for completely new customers because the repeat cycle is a few decades.

In contrast, you can probably point to multiple clients who have engaged your consulting firm repeatedly over the past couple of years. Plus, you can work when it’s raining.

Your long-term clients are testimony to work well done. But is there such a thing as too much repeat business?

Yes.

Roofers are better known for three-tab shingles than for three-layer cakes; however, cake is tastier, so let’s divide your consulting firm’s clients into three layers:

Past – Clients who have hired your consulting firm previously, but with whom you’re not currently engaged.

Repeat – Current clients engaging your consulting firm again, after having worked with you previously.

New – Current clients engaging your consulting firm for the first-time.

Now, let’s look at the optimal mix of your consulting firm’s annual revenue by type of client:

Type of Client % of Revenue
Past 0 – 50%
Repeat 40 – 80%
New 10 – 60%

(Before we go any further, here’s the answer to the question you were just about to ask in the comments section: Client organizations count as a whole, regardless of the number of buyers within them. Different buyers within the same organization don’t count as different clients for this exercise.)

You can see that there are two problem areas: 1) when Repeat clients fall below 40%, and 2) when New clients fall below 10%.

Let’s address the more obvious problem:  you don’t want your Repeat revenue to fall below 40% because you don’t want a roofing business!

If your consulting firm has been in business for more than a couple of years and less than 40% of your revenue derives from Repeat clients, check the following:

  1. Have you designed your projects so that follow-on projects are obvious?
  2. Do your projects incorporate a long tail so that you can build enduring, long-term relationships?
  3. Do you have a good process for surfacing and winning follow-on projects?
  4. Are your clients delighted with your work?

What about the less obvious problem area: Why should you care if your revenue from New clients falls below 10%?

  • New clients provide an opportunity for your consulting firm to experiment with pricing, approaches and products. It’s tough to ratchet up your fees with a Repeat or Past client, but a new client has no history hampering you.
  • For you to meaningfully grow your consulting practice, you must win New clients. Even if you have significant expansion opportunity within your current clients, you typically need more logos on your clients page to enjoy a leap in revenue.
  • If you’re building a boutique consulting firm, your market value will increase if the mix of New clients stays above 10%. Buyers want to see that you have a proven, reliable process for winning clients. Hence, a steady inflow of New clients will increase your multiplier.

What should you do if more than 90% of your revenue comes from Repeat and Past clients combined (i.e., under 10% from New clients)?

If you’re not operating at full capacity, then you need to stoke your business development engine. (Plenty of tips in this book.)

On the other hand, if adding more business from New clients would overwhelm your consulting firm’s delivery capacity, then it’s time to gracefully fire some of your current clients and decline repeat engagements. Candidates for dismissal include:

  • Clients that you don’t like;
  • Clients that are low profitability;
  • Clients that engage you for work outside your strategic direction.

When you say goodbye to these clients, you clear space for better clients to appear.

Do you have a repeat client you’d happily give up to make room for New business?


4 Comments
  1. Tom Borg
    August 8, 2018 at 6:55 am Reply

    It was hard at first letting go of past clients that were either hard to work with or not the best use of my time. But listening to your suggestions proved accurate.

    • David A. Fields
      August 8, 2018 at 8:09 am Reply

      It is very hard to let go of clients–even harder than saying no in the first place. Good for you for pushing through that barrier, Tom, and thanks for providing a leading example!

  2. Alison H.O.
    August 9, 2018 at 12:54 am Reply

    I’ve been supporting a client for the last year with our ergo process, once a month onsite with Reports after, about$50k annually. When it came time for renewal we agreed to the same terms even though we were providing more service than originally projected.they rejected my fee hike and so I stayed with the same fees as the first year. When it came time for commitment, the CEO backed out entirely. No contract… the client however never took responsibility for the actions necessary for a successful process, we did far more to keep the project going. They always were last minute on everything and never opened or confirmed our emails, were often late to meetings and in general disrespectful to our efforts. So, while the revenue was good…. everything else wasn’t …. so I agree….best to let the bad ones go.
    At the least I’m hoping they will continue on our maintenance plan for 10% of the full contract. But if not, Ilessons learned.

    • David A. Fields
      August 9, 2018 at 9:12 am Reply

      That sounds like a good candidate to drop off your client list! There’s also plenty to unpack in your example and, perhaps, some opportunities for you to work on your firm’s boundaries with clients. For instance, you allowed the client to “reject” your change in fees and you still kept providing the additional services.

      A client can be held to task for bad behavior; however, if a consultant lays down like a doormat in front of a client, the client can’t be blamed for walking all over the consultant.

      As you said, lesson learned! Also, you were very kind in providing an excellent case study and that allows other readers to learn too. Thanks for being willing to share, Alison.

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